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An eerily empty church
As more and more people lose their faith in the Catholic Church, it is important to recognize its
profound historical implications and the urgent necessity to reform it.
Text & photos by Gabriela Carrero
In the past decades the Catholic Church has had to deal with a very serious problem in Europe. This religion that once swept the countries of the European continent is currently grappling with a sharp decline in mass attendance. Nations that once revolved around Catholicism, such as Italy, France, and Spain, have been subjects of studies that have found that although large numbers of people consider themselves Catholics, very few of them actually practice it.
Many European countries, such as Spain, have had a very strong Catholic presence in their history. Ever since the Catholic Church re-conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, Spain has only known one central religion, and that is Roman Catholicism. Today, the effect of this religious dominance is quite evident, as breathtaking cathedrals can be found all over this nation. Immense churches such as La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and Santa Maria de la Sede in Seville, are the pure definition of grandiose monuments constructed by the Catholic Church.
However, these basilicas, which are nothing short of brilliant, have lost their original purpose; they are now tourism sites for thousands of visitors each year. María José, a 64-year-old woman who has been living in Spain all her life, says that even though there are still many people who practice the religion in her country, there are many others who are deviating from it. She says Catholicism has been imposed so feverishly, that the newer generations are detaching from it due to centuries of religious saturation. In 2000, a study by the World Values Survey indicated that 33% of Spaniards never, or practically never, go to church, and the numbers are believed to have gone up ever since.
Catholicism has been so deeply rooted in the Spanish culture that is has become more of a social norm than a devout practice. Belén Molinuevo, a professor in a university in Spain, says that Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 brought a lot of social changes. For the first time, this nation has turned into a secular state. “The fact that the country was so poor and isolated during the 20th century, made people associate the modernism of the end of the century with the arrival of the secular society. Religion, which was no longer mandatory, was linked to the past, and to the lack of liberty that existed during the dictatorship.” Such associations are essential to understanding the Spanish people.
After years of oppression and domination, Spain began an era of freedom and progression and is now in tune with other progressive countries. As a result it has moved towards a reality that is parallel to the Roman Catholic Church’s. José Ballesteros, a 31-year-old Madrileño, says the problem is that there’s great discordance between the Spanish society and the Church. “The people have different opinions; education and the society have advanced, and the Church has remained in the past.” He did add, however, that the Church has also done positive things in and to Spain.
Ballesteros believes that the Catholic Church provided scholarly education when none existed, and due to this there had been progress in the past. Nevertheless, he thinks that the Church’s current refusal to evolve in such matters as same-sex marriage is causing the deterioration in the people’s faith.
With the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, there is hope for a more progressive Church. Yet we will have to wait and see if those of the faith will support his more liberal views.
“The basilicas have lost their original purpose; they are now tourism sites”
The Basilica of La Sagrada Familia attracts more than 3 million tourists annually. Queueing up to visit can take two hours or more.
Gabriela is a Puerto Rican, a roving photographer and journalist. She works for Guidepost.
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